As many as 300 musicians and their families who claimed they were owed royalties from Universal Music Group may receive part of a $4.75 million settlement.

As many as 300 musicians and their families who claimed they were owed royalties from Universal Music Group may receive part of a $4.75 million settlement. California Superior Court Judge Victoria Gerrard Chaney signed settlement papers Monday and gave her preliminary approval of the pact. Universal will establish a $4.75 million trust fund to pay musicians or their heirs who agree to accept the settlement, according to court documents.

Universal admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. Attorneys for both sides declined to comment.
Chaney called the agreement "reasonable and fair." A final settlement could be reached by early May after a hearing is held to determine whether anyone objects. The lawsuit is believed to be the first class-action lawsuit against a record company for allegedly cheating artists of royalties dating as far back as the 1940s.

Many of the artists seeking money in the lawsuit are elderly or have died. The lead plaintiff, 81-year-old singer Peggy Lee, claims that Universal Music Group failed to pay her and other musicians millions of dollars by underreporting sales figures and overcharging for services. Lee was signed to the Decca label in the mid-1950s. Universal acquired Lee's contract through a series of mergers.

Others who are part of the suit include heirs of the late Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong.

It wasn't the first legal battle Lee has waged over royalties. Her work writing songs for the 1955 Disney film "The Lady and the Tramp" led to a landmark legal judgment in 1991 when a California court awarded her $2.3 million as her share of the profits from the videocassette sale of the movie. The case hinged on a clause in her pre-video-era contract barring the sale of "transcriptions" of the movie without her approval.


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